A Story of a Search in Ireland for Hidden Spanish Treasure Where the Quaintest of Humor Pervades a Pleasing Romance
GEORGE A. BIRMINGHAM
Synopsis of Previous Chapters
The Rev. John Joseph Meldon, a genial Irish curate, and his friend, Major Kent, of Ballymoy, a village on the west coast of Ireland, take a trip to the Island of Inishgowlan in search of treasure supposed to have been hidden there by a captain of one of the vessels belonging to the Spanish Armada. The major does uot believe in the existence of the treasure, but Meldon is very sanguine.
On arriving at the island they meet Higginbotham, an old college chum of Meldon’s. Hlgglubotham is engaged in surveying the island for the Government and arranging for sanitary dwellings to be built there. Meldon not wishing to mention the cause of their visit tells Kigginbotnam that the major la an expert mineralogist sent by the Government to explore the island. The following day Meldon and the major start to explore the island but find that one of the inhabitants, an old man named Thomas O’Flaherty Pat, is following them everywhere they go. Meldon to put him off the scent pretends to be hunting for sea beetles and the old man then goes down on his knees and plunges his hands into the water, in which position we find him at the opening of the present instalment.
“Looks very much,” said the Major, “as if he was trying to catch a Paphlagonia What’s-it’s-name, too.”
“Athalonia miserabilis,” said Meldon. “Do try to get things right, Major. You set up to be a tidy man and take it on yourself to lecture me every now and then for getting things into wrong places, but you’re the most untidy person I ever met in conversation. You never get a name right.”
“Well, Athalonia whatever you like. Anyhow, he’s trying to catch one.”
“He can’t be, can’t possibly be. There’s no such creature, so far as I know.”
“Well, he’s catching something, and what’s more he’s caught it and he’s bringing it over to you.”
Thomas O’Flaherty Pat came towards them, and certainly carried booty of some sort in his hand. With a dignified and gracious bow, he presented Meldon with a large red crab.
“Good Lord!” said Major Kent.
The curate took the creature carefully, and bowed politely in return.
“Thanks awfully,” he said. “I mean to say, of course, merci beaucoup.”
“Ni Beurla agam,” said the old man. “Oh, never mind about the Beurla. What I want you to know is this, I’m greatly obliged to you for the crab. So’s the professor here. We weren’t exactly looking for crabs. We were looking for an Athalonia miserabilis, but we’re just as much pleased as if you brought us one. The fact is we’re both passionately fond of crab, dressed with breadcrumbs and pepper, you know. And in London, where we come from, the chief city of the Sassenach—you know the place I mean—crabs are too expensive for poor men like us to buy. You can’t pick them up there the way you do here. You’d hardly believe the price a fishmonger would charge for a crab like this.” Thomas O’Flaherty Pat shook his head solemnly.
“Ni Beurla agam air bith,” he said. “All right,” said Meldon. “Good-bye for the present. So long, old boy. We oughtn’t to be taking up your valuable time. I really believe he doesn’t know
a word I’m saying. Look here-”
He seized the old man’s hand and shook it heartily.
“Ceud mile failte—there, that’s all the Irish I know, and if that doesn’t send you off home I can do no more.” This hearty welcome produced the effect intended. Thomas 0 ’Flaherty Pat, after a courteous salutation, turned and
climbed slowly up the path which led to the top of the cliff.
“I hope,” said the Major, “that that will be a lesson to you, J. J.”
“A lesson about what?”
“About telling lies. You see the trouble they get you into.”
“I see nothing of the sort. My lies, as you call them, got rid of that troublesome old fool, who might have gone on following us all day. Also they secured us this excellent crab, which I shall cook for supper to-night. And anyhow, they aren’t lies. They are what is called
diplomacy, and that’s an art practised by the most honorable men—lords and marquises, and kings, and people of that kind. Do you suppose that the Prime Minister, when he thinks he’ll have to go to war with Germany, tells the litera! truth? Does he go and ask to have the first battle put off for a week because he’s short of cartridges? Of course he doesn’t. He gives the Germans to understand that England is chock full of cartridges of all sizes. The fewer he really has the more he says he has. That’s diplomacy, and it’s reckoned to be a very noble line of life. Well, the principle applies to treasure-seeking just as much as to international politics. No treasure would ever have been found if the people who were on the track of it went telling all they knew to every chance acquaintance. They simply have to put the general public—people like Higginbotham and Thomas O’Flaherty Pat—off the scent, and there’s no way of doing that except the one. Besides, it wouldn’t be the slightest use telling the literal truth. People wouldn’t believe you. Suppose I went up to Higginbotham and said that you and I were here on a treasure hunt. Do you think he’d believe it? Not he. He’d laugh. He hasn’t got enough imagination to believe the truth if you hung it up before him. His mind isn’t fit for it. If you knew any theology, Major, you’d understand that economy, as it’s called, consists of dealing out to the average man just the amount of truth he’s fit to receive, and no more. The Church has always gone on that principle, and I’m acting in the same way towards Higginbotham and Thomas O’Flaherty.”
Meldon, encouraging the reluctant Major by example and exhortation, continued to scramble southwards along the base of the cliffs. It grew very hot. Now and then Major Kent sat down, mopped his face, and declared that he would go no further. On such occasions Meldon lit his pipe and argued with his friend. It always ended in the Major going on, slipping, staggering, clutching. At last he sat down with an air of great determination.
“J. J.,” he said, “the tide has turned. I’m going back. We’ve passed some nasty corners, places we couldn’t get round at half-tide. I’ve no fancy for being drowned. You know I can’t swim.”
“All right,” said Meldon, “trust me. I’ll pull you through.”
“If you mean that you propose to
save my life in a heroic manner and get credit and perhaps medals for it afterwards, I tell you plainly that 1 don’t mean to give you the chance. I’m going home the way I came, partly on my two feet, partly on my hands and knees. I’m not going to be towed about the sea to gratify your vanitv.”
“The place I’m going to is just ahead of us. It’s the very next promontory. We’ve time enough to get round it. You’ll be sorry, Major, if vou go back, now.”
The Major rose with a sigh, and followed Meldon to a headland which jutted further out into the sea than any they had passed. It was very difficult to get round it. The sea washed almost against the base of the precipitous rocks. There was no more than a narrow ledge, three or four feet above the level of the water, along which it was possible to walk; and even there it was necessary to press close to the side of the cliff. Once round the point, a long, narrow inlet opened before them. It was, even at the entrance, not more than thirty feet across, and it narrowed as it reached inland. On the south side of the channel the rocks rose sheer out of the water to a height of thirty or forty feet. Above them was a steep slope of short, wiry grass. On the north side, where Meldon and the Major stood, the cliff rose less precipitously, and it was possible to scramble along for a short distance. The tide was almost at dead ebb, and at the end of the channel the water lapped on a tiny beach, surrounded closely on three sides by cliffs. At the shoreward end of the beach, a few feet from the water, was a small hole, hardly to be dignified by the name of cave. It was evident that when the tide rose a little the water would reach the hole, and that at halftide the entrance to it would be entirely covered.
Meldon gazed down the channel and saw the hole in the cliff. His face wore a look of intense satisfaction. Major Kent also seemed pleased. He gave a sigh expressive of relief.
“Now,” he said, “we’re stuck and we can’t go any further. We’ve reached the last rock on which it is possible to climb, and I can neither swim nor fly. Suppose we start to go back?”
Meldon sat down and began to take off his boots.
“This,” he said, “is the scene of the shipwreck, and in that hole the Spanish captain concealed his treasure. Reconstruct the scene for yourself, Major. The galleon, partially disabled by the loss of one or more of her masts, comes driving down on the island before a nor’-westerly gale. I gave you my reasons for saying the wind was nor’-west, so we needn’t go into that again. Where does she strike? On the point we’ve just passed. It’s the furthest sticking-out point there is, so of course she struck on it. You follow me so far? What happens next?”
Meldon, having got rid of his boots and socks, stood up while he took off his coat and waistcoat.
“What are you going to do?” said the Major.
“Swim to the end of the channel, of course, and see what’s inside that hole. You can stay here and mind my clothes. But to go on where you interrupted me. Where was I? Oh, yes. The galleon had just struck on the point. What happens next? A great sea lifts her stern and slews it round. Her bow slips off the ledge of rock over which we walked—it would be about half-tide when the thing happened—and the galleon drifts stern foremost into this channel and sticks fast just where we’re standing now. You follow me all right, don’t you?”
“It’s very interesting,” said the Major, “but I don’t suppose for a moment it’s true.”
“Of course it’s true. It’s what must have happened. Don’t you see that under the circumstances nothing else could happen? Tell me this, now—if a wave, with a nor’-west wind, lifted the stern of the galleon round in the way I have described, what could the old hooker do but go stern first along this channel until she struck?”
“Oh, I dare say that’s right enough, but there’s such a lot went before that.” “Have you any other hypothesis which meets the facts of the case better? No. Very well, then, accept mine. That’s the way all scientific advanc. is made. Some Johnny with brain" produces a hypothesis. Everybody calls him a rotter at first. But he remains calm in the face of opprobrium.”
“I’m the opprobrium, I suppose,” said the Major.
“Well, in this case you represent the opprohrient. But to go on. What does the scientific Johnny do next??”
“You needn’t go on.”
“Oh, but I will. I read the whole thing up at college in Mill’s Logie when I was thinking of going in for honors. I was young then. The scientific Johnny says, ‘Take my hypothesis. If it doesn’t account for the facts give it the chuck out; but if it does, then stop scoffing and get ready a statue to erect in my honor.’ Now, what I say is this, Does my hypothesis cover the facts? There now, you’ve kicked one of my socks into a pool. I do wish you wouldn’t fidget in a place like this. There isn’t room for a display of temper.”
Meldon got his shirt off and stood poised on the edge of the rock for his plunge. “I’ll finish explaining what happened when I get back,” he said. “I won’t be long. Hallo! Who’s that? Oh, Great Scott!”
He pointed with his finger to the top of the grassy slope which crowned the cliff opposite him. The Major looked upwards and saw, seated above the hole, Thomas O’Flaherty Pat. The old man, his hair and beard blown in picturesque wisps by the sea-breeze, was watching Meldon with a calm, disinterested gaze.”
“What are you going to do now?” asked the Major.
“I’m going home again for to-day,” said Meldon, clutching at his shirt. “I’m not going on with that old boy watching me. I tell you he knows what we are after. He can’t have believed
that story about the Athalonia miserabilis. What horrid sceptics these unsophisticated-looking people are in their hearts!”
“He’d have been a precious ass if he had believed it. You give nobody credit for any intelligence, J. J. You invent stories which wouldn’t deceive a babe in arms, and then expect people to be taken in by them.”
“Well,” said Meldon, “Higginbotham believed much taller stories than that one.”
“I knew you were going too far with that sea-insect of yours. Why couldn’t you have invented something more likelv if you had to invent?”
“Oh, well, if we’re going to enter upon a course of mutual recrimination, why couldn’t you have refrained from kicking my sock into a pool?”
Meldon was pulling his boot over the damp garment, and spoke feelingly.
“But nevermind, Major, I’m not by any means at the end of my tether yet. To-morrow we’ll come back here at low tide and I’ll swim to the hole then.” “What about Thomas O’Flaherty Pat? He’ll follow us again.”
“Oh, no, he won’t. I’ll manage him.” “How?”
“That’ll be all right, Major. Yon le^ve it to me. If I say I’ll manage him, you may take it as a fixed thing that he’ll be managed. I can’t tell you just this moment how I’m going to do it. I shall have to think the matter out by myself. But you may feel perfectly certain that it’ll be all right. I’ve not done badly so far, have I?”
“In the matter of lies,” said the Major, “you’ve shown an inventive power which has surprised me.”
“Don’t call them lies; call them disguises. Nine fellows out of every ten who go out treasure-seeking have to adopt some sort of disguise, and it’s always considered quite right. Now, what’s the difference, the moral difference, between a detective-”
“We’re not detectives.”
“The principle is exactly the same— between the d°tective getting himself up as a dock laborer in order to deceive the wily criminal, and our saying that we’re bug hunters in order to put old T. O. P. off the scent? There’s no earthly difference that I can see; so there’s no use being offensive and talking about lies Come on, now. I’m dressed, and we ought to be getting back before the tide rises.”
“I said so an hour ago.”
“Apart altogether from the disguises that we’ve been compelled to adopt,” said Meldon, when they had scrambled round the point and conversation became possible again, “I maintain that I’ve done pretty well so far.”
“I don’t see that you’ve done anything except cut a hole in the knee of your best trousers.”
“They’re not my best; they’re the oldest pair I have. I bought them two years before I was ordained. That’s how they come to be the color they are.” Mr. Meldon meant that the date of their purchase explained their having once been light grey. It also explained
the fact that they were now considerably faded and mottled with a fine variety of stains.
“But leaving my trousers out of the question,” he went on, “I think I’ve done a good deal. I’ve located to a certainty the exact scene of the wreck; I’ve reconstructed the catastrophe precisely as it happened, and I’m practically sure I know where the treasure was hidden.” “Oh, you’re sure of that, are you?” “Practically sure, is what I said. I don’t set up to be infallible. The best men may make mistakes. Listen to me, now, till I explain. The galleon is lying jammed in that channel. The water is, of course, comparatively calm there on account of the shelter of the headland. The Spanish captain, not being a fool— we agreed from the first, you remember, that the Spanish captain wasn’t an absolute fool—sees that there is no immediate danger of the galleon breaking up. These Spanish galleons were all pretty tough. You remember the one that came ashore on Robinson Crusoe’s Island. It was pretty tough, and so was our one. Well, what does the Spanish captain do? He lowers his one remaining boat over the stern of the galleon and ferries his treasure into the mouth of the hole in the cliff. Then he drags it inland as far as the hole goes, maybe twenty yards or so. Afterwards he and the survivors of the crew landed just where we were standing, scrambled round the rocks—by that time it would be dead low water—very likely go up the same path that Thomas Flaherty Pat came down to meet us. Now what do you say to that?”
“I don’t say anything,” said the Major.
“No, you don’t. You save yourself up so as to say, ‘I told you so,’ in case there happens to be any trifling miscalculation. Or if, as is far more likely, I turn out to be perfectly right, then you’re in a position to pretend you agreed with me all along. But it’s waste of breath talking to you.”
“It is,” sai . the Major.
“I’m glad you agree with me there, anyhow. Here’s Thomas O’Flaherty Pat’s path. Let’s go up it and get back to the Spindrift. I’m as hungry as a wolf. That’s the worst of breakfasting so early. By the way, where’s the crab?”
“The large red crab that old Tommy Pat caught and gave to me. Major, have you left it behind?”
“I never had it. If anybody’s left it behind it was you. You were carrying it.”
“But I told you to mind it while I swam up the channel.”
“You did not.”
“Well, I meant to, and anyway you ought to have known. How was I to go swimming with a large crab in my hand? Of course you ought to have minded it,” “I’m sorry,” said the Major.
“Oh, well, it doesn’t much matter. I don’t so much care about the crab itself. I dare say we shouldn’t have been able to cook it properly even if we had it. What I’m thinking of is poor old T. 0.
P.’s feelings. I’m afraid he’ll be hurt if he sees us coming back without his crab.”
“I shouldn’t fret about that if I were you.”
“Oh, but I do. It’s not altogether Patsy Tom O’Flaherty’s feelings that I mind. But on these occasions you ought always to try to win the goodwill and the confidence of the natives.”
“You go a queer way about it, then, if that’s what you want.5’
“Any-book of travel,” said Meldon, ignoring the Major’s last remark, “will tell you that the really important thing is to get the natives to trust you thoroughly from the start.”
“That’s why you told that yarn about the sea insect, I suppose?”
“Look here, Major, what’s the good of rubbing it in about the Athalonia miserabilis? I’ve owned up that that was a slip. I can’t do more, can I? I don’t keep harping on to you about the way you put my sock into the pool and forgot the crab, and those are a jolly sight worse things than any I’ve done.” “I wouldn’t care much,” said the Major, as they neared the top of the steep and slippery pathway, “to be climbing up this five or six times a day with a creel of seaweed on my back.” “No more would I,” said the curate. “Seaweed’s poor stuff, but I wouldn’t mind doing it that number of times and more with a parcel of doubloons slung over my shoulder; gold, Major, good solid gold. It’s this way that we’ll have to bring it up from that hole. I’ve been reckoning out how many journeys we’ll have to make with it. Supposing, now, that there’s-”
“Do shut up, J. J.! What on earth’s the use of talking like that? You know as well as I do that there’s not the smallest likelihood of our getting any gold out of your hole.”
“Oh, I’ll shut up if you like. But I’ll just say this: it’s a good job for you, Major, that you have a man with you who has a little foresight, who figures things out beforehand and lays his plans in advance. You’d be particularly helpless if you were left to yourself.”
They reached the top of the cliff. In front of them lay the long, green slope of the island, a patchwork of ridiculous little fields seamed with an intolerable complexity of grey stone walls. Below, near the further sea, were the cabins of the people, little white-washed buildings, thatched with half-rotten straw. On the roofs of many of them long grass grew. From a chimney here and there a thin column of smoke was blown eastwards and vanished in the clear air a few yards from the hole from which it emerged. Gaunt cattle, dejected creatures, stood here and there idle, as if the task of seeking for grass long enough to lick up had grown too hard for them. In the muddy bohireens long, lean sows, creatures more like hounds of some grotesque, antique breed than modern domestic swine, roamed and rooted. Now and then a woman emerged from a door with a pot or dish in her hands, and fowls, fearfully excited, gathered from the dung-heaps to
her petticoats. Men, leaning heavily on their loys, or digging sullenly and slowly, were casting earth upon the wide potato ridges. Apart from the other habitations stood Higginbotham’s egregious iron hut; the very type of a hideous, utilitarian, utterly self-sufficient civilization thrust in upon a picturesque dilapidation. It gave to the island an air of lialf-comie vulgarity, much such an air as Thomas 0 ’Flaherty Pat might have worn if some one had added to his customary garments a new silk hat. Beyond all lay the bay. round which the island folded its arms, a sheet of glancing, glittering water with darker sea behind it, and far away the dim outline of the mainland coast.
The Spindrift lay at her moorings, and beyond her another boat, cutter rigged also, which had just dropped anchor. Her jib was stowed; her mainsail shook in the breeze. Two men were to be seen casting loose the halyards. Soon the sail was down, and the men were gathering the folds of it in their hands and lashing the gaff to the boom. Major Kent and Meldon stared at the boat in surprise. For a time neither of them spoke. Then, taking his companion by the arm, the Major said—
“What boat’s that?”
“She looks to me,” said Meldon, “uncommonly like my old Aureole.”
“I just thought she did. Now what brings her here?”
“I don’t know.”
“Look here, J. J., you go in for being clever; you’ve been swaggering all day about the way you understand everything and get the hang of whatever happens, even if it’s two hundred years ago; just set your great mind to work on that boat and tell me what she’s doing out there.”
Stirred by the taunt, Meldon spoke with some appearance of recovering selfconfidence.
“It’s the Aureole right enough. I hired her to a man in a mangy fur coat, who said he didn’t know anything about boats but had a friend who did. Now I’ll tell you this, Major, to start with. Either that friend knows nothing about boats either, or else he has some pretty strong reason for wishing to get to this island. Nobody but a fool, or a man who was prepared to take big risks, would have ventured out here in her. Why, every rope in her rigging is as rotten as a had banana, if there’d come on the .‘east bit of a blow that fellow in the fur coat and the other play bey, whoever he is, would have been at the bottom of the briny sea.”
“Well, they’re net,” said the Major, “so their deaths are not on your conscience. ’ ’
“They wouldn’t have been in any case,” said Meldon. “I never thought they’d go outside Moy Bay, or I wouldn’t have hired the boat to them. Who’d expect a seedy individual in a fur coat, a fellow that looked sodden with drink, to take a boat out on to the broad Atlantic? At the same time the other fellow can’t be altogether a fool. He must know something about sailing, otherwise he wouldn’t have fetched up here at all. Now, what on earth brings him out here?”
“Maybe he’s a tourist looking out for scenery. ’ ’
“He is not, then. There isn’t any scenery here, not what tourists call scenery. And there ’s not a guide-book in the world that so much as mentions Inishgowlan. The place isn’t even marked out on most maps. Whatever else he is, he’s not a tourist.”
“He might be a journalist.”
“He might,” said Meldon. “And yet I don’t think he is. It’s quite true that a journalist might come to see Higginbotham. Higginbotham is the sort of man a journalist would fasten on at once. A really smart man at his trade would scent Higginbotham from miles and miles away, and would track him over land and sea. Higginbotham would talk all day long if he got any encouragement. He’d pour out just the sort of sentimental rot about improving the conditions of the people’s life that the plump, kind-hearted Englishman loves to read. There’s a good deal to be said for that journalist hypothesis of yours, Major, but there are serious objections to it too.”
Major Kent did not answer; he was not really much interested in the strangers. Meldon went on—
“In the first place, if he was a journalist, or if he was any kind of inspector, the Congested Districts Board would bring him round in their own steamer. They always take care to do a journalist middling well when they catch him, and they keep their eye on him. They don’t let him off by himself in a boat to pry into all sorts of things which he has no business to see. That’s one objection. The second is this: if he is a journalist, who is the other chappie, the one in the fur coat? Journalists never go about in couples. It would ruin their business if they did. No, on the whole I think we may decide that he’s not a journalist. There’s only one other thing he can be— a Member of Parliament, one of the conscientious, inquiring kind, who wants to look into the condition of Ireland for himself before he commits himself to an opinion on Home Rule.”
“I hope,” said the Major anxiously, “that his coming won’t make it necessary for you to tell any more—I mean to say adopt any more disguises.”
“I expect I shall have to.”
“Well, now, J. J., like a good fellow, draw it mild this time. Remember, if he’s a Member of Parliament he’ll see through the ordinary disguise at once.” “That’s just it,” said Meldon gloomily. “If he’s an M.P. he’s sure to have made inquiries about our educational system and he’ll never believe that story about the National Board wanting to build a school.”
“He certainly won’t believe about my geological survey.”
“You mean on account of the pliocene clay? I don’t expect he knows much about clay—not enough to make him sceptical, anyhow.”
“I wasn’t thinking of the pliocene clay. What I had in my mind was the inherent absurdity of the whole story.” “I don’t see that at all,” said Meldon. “On the contrary, I’m inclined to think
that he will believe that story. Anyhow, he’ll ask a question in the House of Comomns about it.”
“I hope to God he won’t! I should look a nice fool if that story ever got into the papers. ’ ’
“You’d do worse than look a fool. You’d probably be called to the bar of the house, or be sent to jail for contempt of the Chief Secretary. I’ll tell you what it is, Major, if that M.P. gets hold of the story you’d better sail straight to America. ’ ’
“But it’s not my story, it’s yours.” “It’s you they’d prosecute, though. That’s the beauty of Ireland. The clergy are perfectly safe. Even the Chief Secretray daren’t proceed against me; but he would against you, like a shot. He might set a Royal Commission on you.” “Don’t be an ass, J. J.”
“I’m not being an ass. I’m looking facts straight in the face and drawing conclusions. It’s my opinion that if that man in my boat turns out to be a Member of Parliament—I say if—we shall have to adopt some fresh disguise.” “I can’t stand another, J.J. I can’t be four things at once. My brain won’t stand it.”
“It’ll have to.”
“What do you mean to tell him?”
“I don’t know yet. I must be guided by circumstances. But you leave it to me, Major, and you’ll find it’ll pan out all right. I’m not by any means such a fool as people are inclined to take me for. After all, what’s a Member of Parliament?”
The Major’s spirits sank as Meldon’s revived. He was a plain man with an immense dislike of complications, and he foresaw bewildering confusion before him.
“J. J.,” he said solemnly, “I’m Major Kent, I’m also a mining expert in the pay of the Lord-Lieutenant and the Chief Secretary. I’m also a professor of seaserpents and things of that sort. I can’t and won’t set up to be anything else on this trip.”
“Oh, we’re done with the sea-serpent. You can get that off your mind as soon as you like. That was only temporary. Remember, Major, what Shakespeare said, or if it wasn’t Shakespeare it was some one else—‘One man in his time plays many parts.’ You’re a man, aren’t you? Well, there you are. You can’t go behind Shakespeare in a matter of this kind. As soon as we’ve had a bite to eat I’ll paddle across to the Aureole and call on the Member of Parliament.”
“You will not,” said the Major. “What’s the use of running unnecessary risks? You leave him alone unless he goes for you in any way.”
“That’s the very worst possible policy to pursue,” said Meldon. “He’ll be off to collogue with Higginbotham straight away if I don’t stop him; and it’s ten to one he’ll hear about the school or the geological survey. No, no. I’ll take him in hand. If necessary, I’ll trot him round myself. How would it be now, if I dropped a hint that we were members
of the Irish Lights Commission going about inspecting light-houses ? He might believe that, and it wouldn’t interest him enough to set him asking more questions.”
“But there’s no lighthouse here.’
“That’s true, of course. Still, we might be thinking of building one. But anyhow, it’s time enough to think about that. I can’t possibly tell what the best thing to say is till I see the man. In the meanwhile let’s go and get our dinner. I was hungry before; I’m simply ravenous now.”
“My appetite is pretty well gone,” said the Major.
‘ ‘ Rot ! What is there to affect your appetite? Why, man, we’re getting on swimmingly, far better than I expected. You can’t go out treasure-seeking without meeting an occasional difficulty. That’s where the sport comes in. And listen to me, Major, it doesn’t in the least matter what I tell the Member of Parliament or what he hears from Higginbotham. The old Aureole is absolutely certain to drown him on his way home, and anything he happens to have learned will go to the bottom of the sea with him. It’s nothing short of a miracle that he got here safe.”
Having paddled the Major out to the Spindrift, Meldon suggested that they should dine on tinned brawn and breadand-butter. It would, as he pointed out, take a long time to light the galley stove and boil potatoes, and every moment was of value now that the strangers on the Aureole had arrived and might go on shore to interview Higginbotham. It is likely also that extreme hunger made the prospect of an hour’s delay very unpleasant. The Major, in spite of the anxiety which affected his appetite, agreed to dine at once. A tin was opened and a loaf of bread taken from the locker.
“Last loaf but one,” said the Major, as he set it on the table. “To-morrow we shall be reduced to biscuits.”
“Not at all,” said Meldon. “I’ll make a point of seeing Mary Elate’s mother this evening and getting her to make us a loaf of soda bread. There’s nothing so good as one of those pot-oven loaves, baked over a turf fire, and Mary Kates mother is just the woman to do it well. ’ ’
“You know nothing about the woman. You’ve never seen her. How do you know whether she can bake or not?” “I’ve seen Mary Kate, and that’s enough. You’re very unobservant, Major. It’s a great fault in you. And when by any chance you do observe anything, you fail to draw the most obvious inference. Now I know all about Mary Kate’s mother by looking at Mary Kate. She’s a plump, well-nourished little girl, comparatively clean, with a nice, comfortable, red petticoat on her, therefore —observe the simple nature of the inference—therefore Mary Kate’s mother is a competent woman. Is it likely that a woman who couldn’t bake an ordinary
loaf would have reared a child like Mary Kate?”
“She may not have a mother at all,” said the Major. “It might be her grandmother or her aunt that reared her.”
“There you are again. That’s your wretched, niggling, Anglo-Saxon way of grubbing about at details instead of grasping the broad principles of things. It doesn’t matter to us whether Mary Kate has a mother or not. The point is that somewhere behind Mary Kate there’s a competent woman, a grandmother, or an aunt, or a deceased wife’s sister—it doesn’t in the least matter which. Whoever she is she can bake. But I’ll tell you what it is, Major, if we had my little girl here on board, we shouldn’t be going on our bended knees to strange women for the want of a bit of bread. We’d be sitting down now to a good dish of steaming hot potatoes, with their skins just beginning to peel off them. In fact, I shouldn’t wonder if she had them fried for us. Think of that!”
The Major’s remark was interrupted by a heavy bump on the side of the yacht. It was clear from the sound of scraping that followed that a boat had eome alongside.
“That fellow, whoever he is,” said the Major, “will have all the paint off us before he’s done.”
‘ ‘ It must be the Member of Parliament off the Aureole,” said Meldon. “I call this most fortunate.”
He sprang up and climbed on deck. The moment afterwards he thrust his head into the cabin again and said—
“It’s not the Member of Parliament after all. It’s only Higginbotham.”
He plunged forward as he spoke until his body hung down the ladder.
“Best thing that could have happened, ’ ’ he whispered. * ‘ So long as Higginbotham is here we are safe, and the Member of Parliament can’t get at him. I’ll bring him down and give him a bit of brawn. We can open another tin if he seems hungry.”
With a violent wriggle Meldon got his head and shoulders on deck again. He welcomed Higginbotham with effusive hospitality, and warmly invited him to go below and have some dinner. It appeared, however, that Higginbotham was not hungry. His face wore a look of perplexity and irritation. There was evidently something troubling him which he was anxious to have cleared up.
“I saw you leave the shore,” he said, “and I got young Jamesy O’Flaherty to put me off. I hope you don’t mind?”
“Not a bit,” said Meldon. “We’re delighted to see you. You say you won’t have any brawn. Well, try a slice of bread-and-jam. Major, get out the strawberry jam; it’s in the locker under you.”
“No, thanks. The fact is I only came out for a few minutes’ conversation with you. I-”
“If you like,” said Meldon, “I’ll licht the galley fire and make you a cup of tea.”
“No, thanks. I want to speak to you for a few minutes and then I’ll go back
to my work. I’ve been rather annoyed this morning. I’m sure there’s some ridiculous mistake which can be cleared up in ten minutes. I thought it better to come straight to you.”
“Quite right,” said Meldon; “if the thing is clearable at all, I’ll clear it. I’m rather good at clearing things up. Ask the Major if I’m not. Just you make a clean breast of whatever the trouble is. You won’t mind our eating while you talk.”
“It’s about sugar candy,” said Higginbotham.
“Great Scott!” said Meldon. “Mary Kate!”
“I don’t know anything about Mary Kate, but all the children on the island have been following me about and bothering the life out of me for sugar candy. They say you set them on. ” “Look here, Higginbotham,” said Meldon severely. “The Major and I are busy men, whatever you may be. If you’re in any real trouble, we’re quite ready to do our best to pull you through, but I don’t think it’s fair of you to come here wasting our time over some trumpery business about sugar candy.” “But the children said you sent them to me.”
“It’s all well enough for you to be fussing and agitating in this way about mere trifles, but I have serious matters on my mind. I simply haven’t time to waste over sugar candy. If the children have taken your sugar candy, see their parents about it and get them properly whipped. You can’t expect us to go about taking sticky stuff out of their mouths to gratify you.”
“I didn’t say they’d stolen my sugar candy. They haven’t. What I said—” “Very well, then, what are you making all this row about? Do you mean to suggest that we took your sugar candy? Neither the Major nor I ever eat sugar candy. If you set half a pound of it down on this table now, and invited us to gorge, we simply wouldn’t touch it. Look here, Higginbotham, you and I are old friends, and you often used to go up to Rathmines with me to see my little girl, so I’ll just give you a word of advice that I wouldn’t give to a stranger— if you want to get on with the people on this island, don't go quarrelling with their children. There’s old Thomas O’Flaherty Pat, for instance, as decent an old fellow as I ever met, and quite easy to make friends with. He went out to-day, quite off his own bat, without so much as a hint from me, and caught a crab and gave it to me. Anyone with a grain of tact could get on with poor Thomas O’Flaherty Pat. As quiet a man as you’d see anywhere. But you go and rub him up the wrong way, get his back up, and generally play old hokey with his temper by nagging at his granddaughter about some barley sugar. ’ ’
“It was sugar candy,” said Higginbotham, feebly; “and besides-”
“Well, sugar candy, then—it’s all the same. It wouldn’t make any difference if it was peppermint lozenges. You worry and threaten the poor child about a pennyworth of some ridiculous sweet-
meat, and then you profess to be astonished that the old man won’t give up his house to you. I’d have been much surprised indeed if he did under the circumstances. No man likes to have his grandchildren ragged. You wouldn’t like it yourself if you had any. And a little girl, too! Higginbotham, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
“If you’d let me speak for a moment,’ ’ said Higginbotham, “I’d explain.”
You re far too fond of speaking ’ ’ said Meldon. “Half your troubles come trom talking too much.”
“But you’ve taken the thing up wrong. I’m not blaming you. There’s a mistake somewhere, I know. I wish you’d let me say one word.”
3ni won,t spend the rest of the day arguing with you about sugar ean^.It wouldn’t be for your own good if I did. Are you aware, Higginbotham, that there are two English members of Parliament in that boat, anchored a few yards away, and that they’ve come here expressly to see how you are getting on?”
“How do you know that?”
“Well, I don’t absolutely know it But I can’t imagine what would bring a member of Parliament to this island if it wasn t to inspect your work. They don t come here for the salmon fishingyou may bet your hat on that. Now, if you 11 take my advice you would seize the earliest opportunity of smoothing down old Thomas 0 ’Flaherty Pat before they get listening to his story.”
“But the old man can only talk Irish. ’ ’
“Don’t you trust too much to that. Higginbotham. In the first place I strongly suspect that he can talk English just as well as you can ; and besides, you can t be sure that the members of Parliament don’t know Irish. I can tell you there are some mighty smart men in Parliament now. It just happens, Higginbotham, that this morning, while you were chasing and ballyragging that unfortunate little Mary Kate round and round the island for the sake of a bit of sugar candy, I was having a quiet chat with Thomas O’Flaherty Pat. It just shows me the kind of fellow you are. You don’t hesitate to come here bothering the Major and me with your wretched little grievances while I’ve been doing you a good turn in a really important matter.”
“What?” said Higginbotham.
“I’ve a very good mind not to tell you after the way you’ve behaved. But I’ll just say this much. You want old Thomas O’Flaherty Pat’s house and bit of land, don’t you? Very well, you go up there to-morrow at half-past eight and talk to him about it.”
“Have you persuaded him to give it up?”
“I won’t say another word. Just go tip and see for yourself.”
“I’m awfully obliged to you, Meldon;
I really am. I’m sorry for bothering yon about the sugar candy. I wouldn’t have
mentioned the matter to you only_”
“All right,” said Meldon graciously. “Don’t trouble to apologise. The Major
and I don’t mind a bit. But I’ll tell you what you can do now. I have to go and call on the members of Parliament. Will you-??”
“There’s no use doing that,” said Higginbotham. “I saw them going ashore in their punt as I came off to you.”
“All the same, I’ll look them up,” said Meldon. “I’m sure to find them somewhere about on the island. What I want you to do is to stay here and play chess with the Major till I get back.”
He winked fiercely at Major Kent as he spoke.
“I know you play, Higginbotham, for you were a member of the chess club in college. You’ll enjoy having a go at the Major. He’s a perfect whale at the Muzio gambit. Very few men know the ins and outs of it as he does.”
“I don’t,” said the Major sulkily; “and anyway, there isn’t a chessboard on the yacht.”
Meldon winked again, this time with fervent appeal.
“It’s all right about the board,” he said. I saw one in Higginbotham’s house last night. I’ll go ashore in your curragh, Higginbotham, and send it off to you. Good-bye. Oh! Before I go, Major, you might as well give me another sixpence in case I meet Mary Kate again. You may as well give it to me as be losing it to Higginbotham, making bets as to how one of your gambits will turn out.”
There was no one on the little pier when Meldon reached it. He supposed, quite rightly, that those of the inhabitants of the island who were interested in strangers had gone after the M.P.’s. It seemed likely that Mary Kate had followed them. She was a child of inquisitive mind. He walked up to Higginbotham’s house, obtained the chessboard, and sent it off in the curragh to the yacht. Then he made his way to the nearest cottage, knocked at the door, and entered. A young woman, barearmed, with a thick stick in her hands, was pounding a mass of potatoes and turnips in a large tub.
“Good evening to you,” said Meldon cheerfully. “Getting the food ready for the pigs? That’s right. Feed your pigs well. There’s nothing like it. Here, give me a turn at that stick. You look as if you were getting hot.”
“It isn’t the like of this work that you’d be used to,” said the woman smiling.
“Oh, but I can do it,” said Meldon, taking the stick from her. He pounded vigorously at the unsavoury mess for a while. Then he said, “Are you the woman of the house?”
“I am, your honor.”
“Well, then, where’s Mary Kate this afternoon ? ’ ’
“Is it Michael O’Flaherty Tom’s Mary Kate you’ll be wanting?”
“How many more Mary Kates are there ?’ ’
“There’s ne’er another in it only herself.”
“Well, then, it’s her I want. Where have you her?”
“She’s no child of mine,” said the
woman. “I haven’t but the one, and he’s beyond there in the cradle. If she was letting on to your honor that she belonged to me she was just deceiving you. Faith, and it’s not the only time the same little lady was at them sort of tricks. I hear that herself and the rest of the children had the life fair bothered out of the gentleman that does be measuring out the land, about sugar candy or some such talk.”
“I wouldn’t wonder at her,” said Meldon; “but where would she be now, do you think?”
“She might be off chasing home the brown cow and the little heifer for her da.”
“And where would the brown cow be?”
“Faith, that same cow is mighty fond of roaming where she’s no call to go.” The woman stepped outside her cottage door and peered up and down. “Come here now, your honor, and leave off mashing them turnips, if that isn’t herself with the brown cow in front of her and the little heifer beyond there over by the wall, it’s mighty like her.” “I’m much obliged to you,” said Meldon. “Good evening.”
He crossed two stone walls, waded through a boggy field, and came within hail of the child who drove the cattle.
“Mary Kate!” he shouted. “Hullo, there, Mary Kate O’Flaherty!”
She turned and looked at him in wonder. Then, recognizing the giver of the sixpence in the morning, grinned shyly.
“Mary Kate,” shouted Meldon again, “will you come over here and speak to me? Leave those cows alone and come here. Do you think I’ve nothing to do only to be running about the island chasing little girleens like yourself?” But Mary Kate had no intention of leaving the cow and the heifer. With a devotion to the pure instinct of duty which would have excited the admiration of any Englishman and a Casabianca-like determination to abide by her father’s word, she began driving the cattle towards Meldon. Four fields, one of them boggy, and five loose stone walls lay between her and the curate. There were no gates. Such obstacles might have daunted an older head. They didn’t trouble Mary Kate in the least. Reaching the first wall she deliberately toppled stone after stone off it until she had made a practicable gap.
The cow and the heifer, understanding what was expected of them, stalked into the field beyond, picking their steps with an ease which told of long practice, among the scattered debris of the broken wall. Meldon, with a courteous desire to save the child extra trouble, crossed the wall nearest him. Mary Kate dealt with a second obstacle as she had with the first and reached the boggy field. The cattle, encouraged by her shouts, floundered through, drawing their hoofs out of the deep mud with evident exertion. Mary Kate, light as she was, sank to her ankles in places and splashed the calves of her legs with slime. Meldon, who wore boots and had to be careful where he walked, waited for her on dry ground.
“Well, Mary Kate,” he said. “Here you are at last. A nice chase I had after you. Tell me this now, did you see the two strange gentlemen that came off the other boat?”
“Did either of them give you a sixpence the same as I did this morning?” “They did not.”
“Didn’t they now? I’d hardly call them gentlemen at all then, would
you ?’ ’
Mary Kate grinned. Her first shyness was disappearing. She began to find Meldon a companionable person.
“Where did they go when they came ashore? Was it up to the iron house of the gentleman that does be measuring out the land?”
Meldon had gathered from the woman whom he had interviewed on his way that this was the proper description of Higginbotham.
Mary Kate understood him at once. “They did not then.”
“Well, and if they didn’t go there to where did they go?”
“Do you mean up the hill there to the place where the cliffs are?”
Mary Kate grinned assent. She was a child who set a proper value on words and used as few as possible in conversation. Meldon wondered why the Members of Parliament had gone straight past the human habitations and the works of Higginbotham, which might be supposed to interest them, to the desolate region where only very active sheep grazed. He decided that they must have gone to look at the view, and he thought less of them. The tourist — the mere unmitigated tourist—with no political or social objects before his mind, goes to look at views. No one else—certainly no proper, serious-minded Member of Parliament—would waste his time over a view.
“Mary Kate,” he began again after a pause. “You’re Michael O’Flaherty Tom’s Mary Kate; aren’t you?”
“I might then.”
“What’s the good of saying you might when you know you are? You can’t get over me with that sort of talk. Do you see that?”
He held up between his finger and thumb Major Kent’s second sixpence. Mary Kate grinned.
“Well, take a good look at it. Now, tell me this, Is Thomas O’Flaherty Pat your grandfather?”
“Is it me grandda you mean?”
“It is. Is Thomas O’Flaherty Pat your grandda?”
“He might,” said Mary Kate.
“Well, go you up to him wherever he is and tell him this: that the gentleman who does be measuring out the land wants to see him to-morrow morning at half-past eight o’clock. Do you understand me now?”
“I do surely.”
“Well, what are you to tell him?”
“I am to tell him that the gentleman from the Board who does be measuring out the land wants to take the house off him.”
Continued on page 97
Continued from page 32
“Well,” said Meldon, “you can put it that way if you like. And mind this, Mary Kate — are you listening to me now?—mind this, if your grandda isn’t there at half-past eight o ’clock the house will be took off him whether he likes it or not. But if he’s there, maybe it won’t. Do vou understand that?”
“Well, now, there’s one thing more. You’re a mighty clever little girl, Mary Kate. I suppose now you can speak the Irish just as well as you can the English. Well, then, you be up at your grandda’s house at the same time tomorrow,-so as you’ll be able to tell him what the gentleman says to him and tell the gentleman what he wants to say.” t “Sure, there’s no need.”
“I know there’s no need just as well as you do. But you’re to be there all the same. Will you promise me now that you’ll go?”
“I do be in dread of the gentleman,” said Mary Kate doubtfully.
“And well you may after plaguing the life out of him all day for barley sugar. Oh, I heard about your goings on. But don’t you be afraid. That’ll be all right.”
“Will he be for beating me?”
“He will not. I made it all right with him, and he won’t raise a hand to you, so you needn’t be afraid. Just you face up to him and tell him what your grandda says about the house. Now, here’s the other sixpence for you. Be a good girl and mind what I said, and maybe you’ll get another sixpence yet.”
Meldon left the child and strolled down to the pier. He was gratified to see the two strangers in their punt rowing off to the Aureole. Their taste for scenery was evidently satisfied. He paddled out to the Spindrift very well satisfied with himself. He found Major Kent Higginbotham sitting over the chessboard in the cabin. The Major had just been checkmated for the fourth time and was in a very bad temper. Higginbotham had taken quite the wrong way of soothing him. There is nothing more irritating than to have the mistakes of the past brought up and ex-
E' lained. all their foolishness exposed.
[igginbotham, with that curious memory which only chessplayers possess, had insisted on going over each of the four games he had won and showing the Major where the weakness of his moves lay. Meldon interrupted the fourth demonstration.
“Wake up, you two,” he cried as he entered the cabin, “and let’s get tea. I’m as hungry as if I hadn't touched food to-day. I’ll tell you what it is, Higginbotham, I wouldn’t like to be an inhabitant of this island of yours when there’s a famine on. I never came across such a place in my life for raising an appetite on a man. You ought to get your Board to run it as a health resort for dvspeptic people who can’t or won’t eat.”
“Dyspeptic people,” said the Major sullenly, “are the ones who eat too much.”
“Oh! well you know the kind iof people I mean. I may have got the name wrong. I’m not a boss at scientific names, and I never said I was. 1 leave that to you and Higginbotham. You like talking about pliocene clay and such things. Hullo! Where are you going?”
The Major had risen from his seat and was making for the galley. He disliked the mention of pliocene clay. It seemed to him that it might lead to inquiries from Higginbotham about the geological survey of the island.
“I’m going to light the stove,” he said.
“Oh, I’ll do that,” said Meldon. “I know you hate messing about with coal and paraffin oil. It dirties your hands. You and Higginbotham spread the cloth and get out the cups and things.”
“I’m afraid I can’t stay for tea,” said Higginbotham. “I’ve got a lot of writing to do.”
“Nonsense,” said Meldon hospitably. “You can’t really want to write. No posts go out from this island.”
“No, they don’t. But I’m expecting some members of our Board round before the end of the month, and I like to bave a report of my work written up. I didn’t realize that it was so late till you came on board.”
“Very well, Higginbotham, we won’t interfere with your work. The Major and I both know what official work is. We’re sorry to lose your company, but, of course, we quite understand. Major, if you put Higginbotham ashore in the punt, I’ll light the stove. Good-bye, old fellow. Mind you don’t forget to be up at old O’Flaherty’s to-morrow at 8.30. It’s most important. Are you ready, Major?”
Major Kent was already busy at the stove and refused to leave it. It was Meldon who took Higginbotham to the pier. When he returned the stove was lit, the kettle on it, and Major Kent was waiting for him.
“J. J.,” said he, “I’ll stand no more of this. If you want to entertain Hig-i ginbotham you must do it yourself. You know I’m no good at chess. What do you mean by dumping a man like that down on me for the afternoon?”
“I thought you’d like a game,” said Meldon.
“You thought nothing of the sort. You knew I was no match for a fellow who has won championship cups and things. He talked to me about the Sicilian defence. What do I know about the Sicilian defences?”
“If he hadn’t had Sicilian defences to talk about he’d have talked about geology, and that would have been fl great deal more unpleasant for you.” “I don’t see why he need have beei kept here to talk at all.”
“My dear Major, aren’t you a litth unreasonable? I had to keep Higgin botham occupied in some way. I had t keep him off the island. Don’t you sei that if he landed he’d have been almos certain to kno k up against one or othei
of those Members of Parliament? Then he’d have let the whole thing out—geological survey, school, and all. You wouldn’t have liked that. You told me yourself you wouldn’t like it."
"He’ll see them to-morrow anyway. It’ll be all the same in the end."
He may not see them to-morrow They may be gone out of this. You don’t realize, Major, what a restless animal the modern Member of Parliament m. He never stops long in one place. He can’t, you know. The British Empire has grown so enormously of late that the Members of Parliament simply have to dart round to get a look at it at all. Besides, even if Higginbotham does see them it won’t matter. I have everything fixed up for to-morrow. By the evening we’ll have our hands on the treasure, and be in a position to laugh at the whole Government. Ah! there’s the kettle boiling."
A few minutes later Meldon entered the cabin with the teapot in his hand.
“I was just going to tell you," he said, when the kettle boiled and interrupted me, that I’ve made it all right about old Thomas O’Flaherty Pat. He won’t track us to-morrow."
"What did you do?" said the Major a little anxiously. "Did you disguise yourself again?"
"I did not then," said Meldon, "but I don’t deny that I more or less disguised Mary Kate’s grandda, and for the matter of that, Mary Kate herself and Higginbotham. I resorted to what you military men call a stratagem. ’ ’
"What did you do?"
"Well, maybe as you’ve been a magistrate since you’ve given up the army, you’ll understand me better if I say that I established an alibi."
"I wish you’d talk sense, not that I care what you did. I’m past caring."
"An alibi," said Meldon, "is what they call it when a man is in another place from where the prosecuting counsel wants him to be. Now I don’t want old O’Flaherty down on the pier tomorrow morning when we land. I don’t want Higginbotham either. For the matter of that I don’t particularly care about seeing Mary Kate there. So I’ve settled things in such a way that they’ll all three of them be somewhere between half-past eight and half-past nine tomorrow morning. That’s the alibi. See?"
"I do not."
"Well, I can’t help your not seeing. The facts are just the same as if you did. We want to get off to that hole tomorrow without being tracked by old T. O. P., or talked at by Higginbotham. That’s so, isn’t it? Very well, we’ll get off, unseen and unknown. That’s what comes of managing these things with some little intelligence."
"What about the Members of Parliament. if they are Members of Parliament ?"
"As I think I told you before," said Meldon, "they’ll probably be gone tomorrow morning. But even if they’re not, it won’t matter. They went off this afternoon up to the top of the mountain to look at the view. Now fel-
lows who go wandering about after scenery aren’t likely to interfere seriously with us. We needn’t bother about them. ”
Meldon’s stratagem was entirely successful. Not only did Higginbotham and old 0’Flaherty keep their engagement punctually, and Mary Kate go to act as interpreter, but almost all the rest of the inhabitants of the island went to listen to the discussion. The pier and the fields through which it was necessary to pass in order to reach the path down the cliff were entirely deserted. Meldon carried a bathing towel slung round his neck. The Major had a basket with some luncheon in it. After landing they took a look at the Aureole. The two strangers were busy on deck.
“What on earth are they doing?” said the Major.
“It looks to me uncommonly like as if they were trying to pull the halyard clear of the block at the throat,” said Meldon. “If they do they may reeve it again themselves. I’m not going over to help them.”
“But what can they want to do that for?”
“I’m sure I don’t know. Maybe they’ve got a new one on board. The old one’s pretty bad. I shouldn’t wonder if they wanted to get rid of it. But anyhow it’s no business of ours. Come along.”
“I wish very much.” said the Major an hour later, when they were scrambling along the rocks below the cliff, “that there was some nearer way to this beastly treasure-hole of yours.”
“Well, there isn’t; not unless you like to let yourself down off the top of the cliff where the old boy was sitting yesterday, or off the other one on the north side of the bay. I think it dropped more sheer. By the way, that mightn’t be a bad idea for getting the treasure up. You could stand on the top and let down a bag to me. I’d fill it with doubloons and then you’d haul up. See? It would be a great deal easier than carrying the stuff all round here and up the path. We’d run it down the hill to the pier in half an hour.”
“It would be easier,” said the Major. “But it will be time enough to arrange about that when you’ve got the gold.”
They reached the shelf of rock outside the cave at last.
“It’s a pity you can’t swim,” said Meldon. “You look hot enough to enjoy the cold water this minute.”
Meldon himself, stripped, stood for a minute on the edge of the rock stretching himself in the warm air. Then he plunged into the water. He lay on his back, rolled over, splashed his feet and hands, dived as a porpoise does. Then, after a farewell to the Major, he struck out along the channel. In a few minutes he felt bottom with his feet and stood upright. He heard the Major shout, something, but the echo of the cliffá around him prevented his catching the; words. He swam again towards the shore. The Major continued to shout!
Meldon stopped swimming, stood waistdeep in the water, and looked round. The Major pointed with his hand to the cliff at the end of the channel. Meldon looked up. A man with a rope round him was rapidly descending. Meldon gazed at him in astonishment. He was not one of the islanders. He was dressed in well-fitting, dark-blue clothes, wore rubber-soled canvas shoes and a neat yachting cap. He reached the beach safely and faced Meldon. Tor a short time both men stood without speaking. The Major’s shouts ceased. Then the stranger said:
“Who the devil are you?’
“I am the Rev. Joseph John Meldon, B.A., T.C.D., Curate of Ballymoy. Who are you and what are you doing here?” “Damn it!” said the stranger.
“I wish,” said Meldon, “that you wouldn’t swear. It’s bad form.”
“Damn it!” said the stranger again with considerable emphasis.
“I’ve mentioned to you that I’m a parson. You must recognize that it’s particularly bad form to swear when you’re talking to me. You ought to remember my cloth.”
The stranger grinned.
“There’s devilish little cloth about you to remember this minute,” he said. “I never saw a man with less. But any way, I don’t care a tinker’s curse for your cloth or your religion either. I’ll swear if I like.”
“You don’t quite catch my point,” said Meldon. “I don’t mind if you swear yourself blue in the face on ordinary occasions. But if you’re a gentleman — and you look as if you wanted to be taken for one — you’ll recognize that it’s bad form to swear when you’re talking to me. Being a parson, I can’t swear back at you, and so you get an unfair advantage in any conversation there may be between us— the kind of advantage no gentleman would care to take.”
“Well, I’m hanged.”
“Think over what I’ve said. I’m sure you’ll come to see that there’s something in it. By the way, I seem to recognize ■the rope you’ve got around you. If I’m not greatly mistaken, it’s the throat halyard of my boat. I know it by the splice I put in where I cut away a bit that was badly worn. It ’s a remarkably neat splice. Now, if you don’t mind my saying so, you’re a fool to go swinging over a cliff at the end of that rope. It’s rotten. ’ ’
“Like everything else in your damned—I mean to say your infernal old boat. You may be a parson, but I call you a common swindler if you’re the man who hired that boat to my friend Langton.”
“Are you a Liberal or a Conservative?” asked Meldon in a cheerful, conversational tone.
“What the devil — I mean, what on earth has that got to do with yon?”
' ^‘Oh, nothing, of course. Only as ÿbu’re a Member of Parliament I naturally thought you’d like to talk politics, and it would be easier for me if I knew to start with which side you were on.”
“I’m not a Member of Parliament.” “Well, I suppose Mr. Langton is. It’s all the same thing. I might have guessed he was something of that sort when I saw him in that fur coat. Is lie a Liberal or a Conservative?”
“Are you an escaped lunatic?” “Don’t lose your temper,” said Meldon. “If he isn’t a Member of Parliament, say so, calmly and quietly. There’s nothing, so far as I know, insulting about the suggestion that you and he are Members of Parliament. Lots of fellows are quite keen on getting into Parliament and spend piles of money on it. I think myself that it’s rather a futile line of life. But then I’m not naturally fond of listening to other fellow’s speeches. It’s all a question of taste. Some people like that kind of thing well enough. I don’t blame them. There’s nothing to be ashamed of in writing M.P. after your name. There’s certainly nothing to get angry about in my supposing that you do. But if you like, we’ll drop the subject. What did you say your name is. Mine, I think I told you. It’s Meldon—Joseph John Meldon, B.A. ”
“And what are you doing here, Mr. Joseph John Meldon?”
“Bathing. What are you doing?” “I’m bird’s-nesting.”
“Ah!” said Meldon. “Now I was very keen on bird’s-nesting myself when I was a boy. I remember one time going off to an island in the lake near my old home, swimming, you know, and coming back with four waterhen’s eggs in my mouth. One broke on the way and it happened to be a bit—you know what I mean—a bit high. I sometimes think I can taste it still. I couldn’t spit it out on account of the other three—” “How long do you mean to stand there talking?”
“I’m in no hurry,” said Meldon. “It’s early yet, and it isn’t every day I get the chance of talking to a Member of Parliament.
“I’ve told you once already that I’m not a Member of Parliament.”
“Come now, I can understand modesty, and I can understand a man’s adopting a disguise. I’ve done that myself before. But it’s a bit too thick when it comes to trying to persuade me that you’re not a Member of Parliament. Is there any kind of man except an inquiring English M.P., wbo’d come off to Inishgowlan in a five-tonner and swing off the face of a cliff on a rotten rope? What would anybody else do it for? Tell me that. Where would be the sense in it? You tell Higginbotham you’re not a Member of Parliament if \ou like, and he’ll maybe believe you, though I doubt if even Higginbotham would. Or try it on with Major Kent. He’s an innocent sort of man. But there’s no good talking that way to me. If you’re not a Member of Parliament, what are you?”
“Perhaps you’ll believe me and clear out of this if I tell you that my name’s Buckley, Sir Giles Buckley, and that I haven’t been in this cursed country, or
England either, for the last ten years until a week ago.”
A sudden light flashed on Meldon’s mind. Old Sir Giles Buckley, the grandfather of the man in front of him, had known about the Spanish treasure. He had heard the story, just as Captain Kent had, from Lady Buckley. No doubt he, too, had written it down in some diary, or had left notes of his expedition in seach of the treasure. This man — this disreputable, disinherited son of the last Sir Giles—had of necessity been heir to Ballymoy House and the papers it contained. The situation became clear to Meldon. Here was a rival treasureseeker, a man evidently possessed of information superior to that of Major Kent’s grandfather, for he came straight to the very spot which Meldon had taken much pains to discover.
“I’m delighted to meet you” said Meldon. “Your father was always a liberal subscriber to the funds of the church in our parish. I hope you mean to keep up his subscription. The rector has been worried a lot over the loss of what your father used to give. It’s most fortunate my meeting you in this way. I’ll explain the situation to you in a moment. When the Church of Ireland ceased to be established by law—Gladstone, you know, I think it was in 1869-”
“I’m not going to subscribe one penny to your church,” said Giles. “I haven’t any money, and if I had I wouldn’t give a solitary shilling towards paying a fellow like yo.u.”
“Well, anyhow it can do you no harm to understand how we’re situated. Under the Act of Disestablishment the existing clergy-”
“Damn it!” said Sir Giles.
Then he pulled vigorously at the rope which was still round his armpits and shouted, “Langton, Langton, haul up, will you? Have you gone to sleep? Haul up, I tell you. Not too quick. Do you want to knock my brains out?”
(To be continued.)